Reid Remarks On Short-Sighted Cuts To Medical Research

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 “It would be impossible to count the lives that NIH innovation has already saved. And researchers are nowhere close to realizing the limits of modern medicine.”

“[NIH] innovations have the possibility not only to save lives, but to save Americans billions each year on medical care.  And NIH has made us an intellectual and economic world leader. But the senseless cuts of the sequester put all NIH does at risk.”

“We can all agree that reducing our deficit is a valuable goal. But we should reduce the deficit by making smart investments, not by making short-sighted cuts that cost lives in the long-term. Because there is simply no price tag you can put on that.” 

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding $1.55 billion in cuts to the National Institutes of Health, which are decimating medical research and innovation. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

A century ago, a person born in the United States could reasonably expect to live to see their late 40’s. Today, most people born in America will live into their late 70’s, 30 years longer. Imagine adding three decades to your life expectancy.

This gift of life is thanks in part to 125 years of research by the National Institutes of Health.

Due to NIH research, fewer people die of cancer each year than the year before. Over the last half-century, deaths from heart disease and stroke have fallen by 60 percent. And because of anti-viral therapies developed by NIH-funded researchers, patients diagnosed with HIV can count their life expectancy in decades instead of months.

It would be impossible to count the lives that NIH innovation has already saved. And researchers are nowhere close to realizing the limits of modern medicine.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the NIH research facilities in Bethesda, Maryland this week and witness firsthand the fascinating work they do there. I toured the clinic where the best medical researchers in the country are trying to solve the world’s most elusive medical mysteries – diseases that have yet to be identified let alone cured.

In addition to the work being conducted by the nearly 6,000 scientists in the labs located on its campus, the NIH awards tens of thousands of grants each year to more than 300,000 researchers across the country. These scientists are seeking the next breakthrough treatments and cures. They are reaching for the next advancement that will, to borrow Abraham Lincoln’s words, add years to our lives as well as life to our years.

But today the crucial, life-saving work of the NIH is in jeopardy. The across-the-board cuts of the mean and arbitrary sequester have hit NIH hard. The institutes have cut $1.55 billion from their budget this year alone.

That means NIH will award 700 fewer grants this year than last, putting the next revolutionary treatment at risk. And faced with diminished funding opportunities and an uncertain future, promising young scientists are abandoning the research field altogether.

NIH researchers are currently studying cancer drugs that zero in on a tumor with fewer sickening side effects. They’re developing a vaccine that could fight every strain of the flu without a yearly shot – saving money and lives. And they’re conducting clinical trials that will help identify and treat those at risk of developing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, leading to more successful treatment of this costly and debilitating illness.

These innovations have the possibility not only to save lives, but to save Americans billions each year on medical care.  And NIH has made us an intellectual and economic world leader. But the senseless cuts of the sequester put all NIH does at risk.

And as the United States slashes investments in medical research, our competitors are redoubling their efforts. Last year, China and India increased their spending by 20 percent each. And South Korea, Germany and Brazil increased their researching funding by 10 percent each. As these countries attempt to replicate our success, we are abandoning the investments that brought us here.

Medical innovation does not happen overnight. It takes years of research, years of trial and error, years of process of elimination. Even when scientists know the cause of a disease, it takes an average of 13 years to develop a drug to treat it.

Short-sighted cuts to research funding today will cost us valuable cures tomorrow. And while those costs may not be felt this month, this year or even this decade, their long term consequences will be grave.

Imagine if we had neglected our commitment to finding effective treatments for cancer, heart disease or stroke 50 years ago. Imagine if we had abandoned investments in treatments for HIV and AIDS in the 80’s and 90’s. Imagine the lives cut short.

We can all agree that reducing our deficit is a valuable goal. But we should reduce the deficit by making smart investments, not by making short-sighted cuts that cost lives in the long-term. Because there is simply no price tag you can put on that.

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